Sunday, June 18, 2017

Archie and His Orbee

I mentioned one of Archie's sillier behaviors in a recent post: how he lays down with his front paws straight out in front of him, side by side, and then carefully sets the ball on his paws and nudges it with his nose, using his paws like a piece of Hot Wheels track to direct the ball to me. He's learned, of course, that he has to be more or less facing me or this trick won't work. I refuse to chase balls so one of his newer commands is "no, YOU get it!" 

I'm now going to attempt to describe some other unique aspects of playing ball with Archie. I have to specify that we prefer to play with the Orbee balls patterned like globes. The dogs gleefully and immediately peel off the continents when given a new Orbee ball, which is rare because they last forever (rated 10/10 by T3i), but even without those decorations the balls are satisfyingly knobbly. Iceland in particular is alarmingly large and pointy. The balls are made of soft rubber (not latex), and have two holes in them at opposite ends. The part about the holes is important, as you will see. 

Archie likes to chew on his ball a bit before he rolls it off his paws to me. But he doesn't just mouth it. He rapidly compresses this thick, strong ball nearly in half with his giant fox terrier teeth and jaws. Now imagine what happens when you do this with a hollow rubber ball--all the air rushes out the holes and puffs his cheeks out. Then he relaxes his jaws and the ball pops back to shape as the air rushes back in, sucking his cheeks with it. He often gives a terrier head shake when he clamps down just to make really sure the ball is dead. He will do this more than a dozen times in a row after every throw so I can only conclude that he likes how it feels. His actions are deliberate, not frantic. This is high church ritual for him.

Throwing the ball to Archie has become a challenge. When I play in the house, I don't want things to get too wild so I'll bounce the ball off the floor in a low, forward arc. Archie rarely misses. It's kind of eerie. I've tried throwing faster, to the side, with a higher bounce--I can't really get the ball past him very often. As soon as he catches the ball, he runs back to the same position on a rug near my front door. Mimi is often already there with her ball so Archie has to carefully navigate around her--bumping a cranky old terrier even by accident is not the best idea. He'll lay down a few feet from me, maul the orbee for a bit to ensure it is completely covered in slobber (he has the most slobbery mouth I've ever seen in a small terrier), roll it off his paws to me...and then he waits still as a statue, tongue hanging out just a bit, almost holding his breath, laser eyes on the ball at my feet.

When I reach for the ball, he bursts into action, levitates up and over Mimi, somehow never touching her, and runs to position in the living room, skidding into a turn so he faces me as he comes to a stop. I taught him "beep beep" (the command I use for "back up") simply by waiting for him to randomly take a step back. Now he often starts backing up on his own if I don't wing his ball to him right away. 

I like playing ball with Archie because he is so obsessive, so dedicated to executing all of the little parts of the game just so, over and over and over. To illustrate the depth of Archie's obsessive behavior with his orbee, I have this example. I threw the ball and to everyone's surprise, it bounced off his nose and rolled to a position far behind me. He ran and grabbed the ball then ran back to the position in the living room where he would have originally caught the ball, skidded around to face me and only then ran to lay down in the usual launch position near me, carefully winding his way around Mimi. I was floored. 

I am perfectly aware that playing with him like this created the little monster that wouldn't let me study this term. But the focus he has when we play ball is very similar to his focus when we play agility. I want to nurture this focus, learn to direct it and reward it.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Diary of a Second-Year Vet Student: Progress

Today, I am 50% a vet.

Today, I am now a third-year vet student.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Diary of a Second-Year Vet Student: New Vocabulary

Vet school means confronting and managing an avalanche of new words as well as old words used in new ways. My high school Latin has proven to be extremely valuable (I won an award for reciting a piece by Cicero). I have long been interested in words and language, dabbling in Russian, Japanese, Mandarin, and French. And of course, I acquired a very large technical vocabulary as a geologist. My geologic vocabulary uses many of the same Latin and Greek (and German) roots, prefixes, and suffixes as medical jargon. I could write an entire post about the joys of looking at a new medical term and knowing exactly what it means because I know what the various parts of the word mean individually even though I've never seen that precise combination of those parts before.

But I can already sense your eyes rolling back in your head--this post is not about my geeking out on word origins. This post is about a different subset of the new vocabulary we must navigate while in vet school. I wrote a while back about drunk cleaning, a sort of multitasking celebration of having time to deal with the mundane corners of life that is generally only experienced at the end of a school term.

Today, I want to talk about procrasti-baking and its cousin, stress baking.

As the end of the term approached and finals weeks looms (we have six finals this term, one last week and five next week), quite a few of my classmates were showing up in the mornings with enormous ziplock bags of snickerdoodles, brownies, and muffins, made with love and lots of butter and sugar. We coined the term "procrasti-baking" to describe this. They know they need to study but we are all feeling overwhelmed with the mountain of material we have to slog through (Principles of Surgery, I'm looking at you). Some of us watch NetFlix, some of us procrasti-bake.

Stress baking is similar but it can only occur the night before an exam. I am expecting stress-baked goods at least one morning this coming week. Overwhelmed and stressed is the constant state of the vet student. 

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Diary of a Second-Year Vet Student: Exams and Tears

Exams don't usually stress me out, or rather, unduly stress me out. My study habits seem to be sufficient to prepare me for most of them. But yesterday afternoon, we had a big exam for our Principles of Surgery lab. This exam was all about demonstrating that we knew how to do some specific things: how to do a sterile prep, how to put on a sterile gown and gloves and maintain sterility, how to scrub in for a surgery, how to tie suture knots and make different suture patterns, which sutures are used in which situations (this includes suture material, suture diameter, and the type of needle), names of about 40 different surgical instruments (all of them named for dead white men), how to fold gowns, how to wrap a pack, in this case the gown we just folded, for sterilization, and how to bandage and cast. That's a long list, and only about half of what we covered in the lab during the term.

Yesterday was the one and only exam for this lab. It was a long, stressful exam--imagine doing all those things while under microscopic scrutiny, and having points taken off for the very smallest of mistakes. There were tears, oh so many tears. I came close myself.

I have to say that the lab techs and the instructors were extremely clear on what we were expected to know and to do. There were no surprises on this exam. We will be cutting into the abdomens of live animals during our first week back in the fall (spays and neuters), and they want to make sure that we are prepared for that.

Two stations in particular were the source of most points lost and the most tears shed: hand throws with suture (that is, tying knots by hand rather than using tools to help hold and pull suture), and suture patterns, both of which had to be done while wearing surgical gloves. We were told in the clearest of language that we had to perform our one-handed and two-handed knots exactly as they were shown in the videos made by the instructor. I am left handed and want to tie my knots with my left hand, and even with that handicap (pardon the pun), I was able to duplicate the videos. Some of my classmates decided they knew better--lost points. Some of my classmates were so nervous that they dropped the suture while tying it--lost points. Some of my classmates never learned their hand knots--lost lots of points. I made sure that I can tie the knots with 5-0 suture (it's scarily fine) while wearing gloves with my eyes closed. But even that level of preparation didn't stop me from being so nervous that sweat was running out of my gloves, leaving tracks of powder on my arms. (Powdered gloves are no longer used for surgery on living animals so they were all sent down to the teaching lab for us second-years.)

It was the suture pattern station that nearly did me in. We had to make three suture patterns. I did the first two (near-far-far-near and Cushing) and was working on the third, the Ford interlocking, a pleasing pattern used for skin closure. Just as I was pulling the closing knot, my fake skin ripped and the entire pattern pulled out. I started over. The exact same thing happened again as I was trying to tie it off. I put my head down on the table, blinked back some hot tears then took a few deep breaths and started the pattern again. I managed, just barely, to tie it off. I was trembling, sweating, worried that I was burning up precious minutes needed for other stations.

Believe it or not, there were a couple of moments of comedic relief during the exam. We had a lecture and lab on bandaging and casting. One of the instructors put a janky bandage and cast on the front leg of a large, plush tiger, included some radiographs of a fractured ulna from a dog in the exam packet, and asked us to list four things that were wrong with the cast on the tiger. There were far more than four things wrong so I thought that was an extremely fair arrangement.

The surgical scrub station was an unexpected challenge. The technique that you use to scrub in is fairly specific and invariable and we had been given several opportunities to practice it under the watchful eye of a lab tech during the term. This time, we lined up next to the sinks and were blindfolded! We then held our hands up as they were painted with green water-soluble paint. Once that dried, we had to grab our scrub sponges and remove as much of the paint as possible in three minutes. From both hands. In THREE minutes. Did I mention the blindfolds? It was stressful and silly at the same time. And rather disturbing to see how many of my classmates still had green paint on their hands at the end of the exercise. 

I managed to only lose two points on the exam (I did something dumb with my gown when putting it on, and I lost a point for not explicitly stating that I wanted a taper needle for a specific application.)

We are at last coming to the end of this second year of vet school. Next week is the last week of the term. We have one final next week and five the following week (and we had a seventh class this term that did not have a final associated with it). We are nearly 50% there!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Diary of a Second-Year Vet Student: Tied In A Knot

My cohort is only four weeks away from becoming 50% vets. It feels like we have started taking bigger and bigger steps towards our goal. For the final lab of our Anesthesia course, working in teams of three, we have to conduct a physical exam on a dog, select and administer pre-meds, prep and sterilize the surgical site, intubate, induce, and move the patient to the operating room. We have to monitor the dog during surgery (anesthetic monitoring is a specific set of tasks that involve keeping track of nearly a dozen different patient variables such as blood pressure and heart rate as well as the rate of oxygen flow and amount of inhalant drug being delivered), extubate it, and stay with it until it wakes up. One of the fourth-year students will perform either a spay or a neuter on the dog. There's lots of moving parts there. And anesthesia is only one of the seven courses I am taking this term.

The lab midterm for our Principles of Surgery course is set for next week. Most of this lab is about doing things: scrubbing in properly, gowning and gloving using sterile techniques, folding gowns, wrapping sets of surgical instruments (called packs) so that they can be sterilized. While not an expert, I was introduced to all of these activities when I worked two summers ago at the emergency clinic--I am very grateful to KM for training me so thoroughly. I practiced these things in lab as required but I don't need extra practice for them. Identifying some 40 different instruments is also part of the midterm. I already knew the names of perhaps half of them, cutting that task down to a manageable size too.

So for me, and for most of my classmates, the most difficult part of our surgery lab will be the sutures. Given a particular surgical scenario, we have to say what suture we would use and why: the material, the diameter, and the type of needle. We have to demonstrate tying knots using the one-handed, two-handed, and instrument techniques (the latter is by far the easiest one). We have to demonstrate at least one, perhaps several, of the eight suture patterns we were required to learn. We might have to tie in a drain. Oh, and all that has to be done while wearing surgical gloves.

How exactly do vet (and human med) students learn these things? For the knots, we start with nylon rope and a standard-issue "knot tying board." We also use proxies like carpet pads with lengths of yarn strung through them to represent vessels that we need to ligate (tie off), layered cloth and foam pads with slits into which we can insert then suture in drains, the DASIE model (Dog Abdominal Surrogate for Instructional Exercise--do click through and look at the pictures), and the best tool of all, fake skin.

Knot tying board. Half of the nylon rope is dyed purple. It helps you learn the knots and to see immediately if you have tied a knot correctly. Ethicon makes sutures and other medical devices.

The best fake skins are layered in different colors for dermis, subcutis, and muscle, but quite a few of my classmates were issued a thick, rectangular, sticky, opaque pink blob that I immediately dubbed "the ham." I didn't get a ham. I got a nasty little 3x5 inch piece of tri-layered fake skin that had been used by many, many vet students before me. It was covered with their skin flakes, their dogs' hair, their tears. I could barely bring myself to touch it. But I was prepared--before the term started, I had purchased a lovely, brand new, 5x7 inch piece of fake skin from Amazon. It even came with interesting pre-cut incision shapes.

Since I've been practicing and my sutures don't look hideous, I thought I'd post some pictures. And yes, my fake skin is on an upside-down dinner plate. I want to keep it relatively clean and free of dog hair. Also, it is a bit tacky and leaves a sticky residue on my desk. I'd rather wash a dinner plate each time I practice.

Suture patterns clockwise from upper left: horizontal mattress, vertical mattress, cruciate, simple continuous with buried knots at both ends, and Ford interlocking, another continuous pattern.

Suture patterns from left: Cushing, near-far-far-near, and Lembert. I'm particularly pleased with the Lembert. I placed these with 3-0 suture, the thinnest diameter that I've attempted to use yet.




You might be wondering where we get our supplies from. We burn through a lot of suture material at this stage of learning and experimentation. Well, medical supplies like gloves and sutures have expiration dates. Vet schools will set the expired items aside for use by students and for use on cadavers. There is an entire floor-to-ceiling cabinet full of expired sutures that we can take home with us for practice. It gives us a chance to try all the different suture materials and diameters, see what they feel like, how easy or difficult they are to handle. There are even catgut sutures in there, many years past their expiration date. For the record, catgut is really hard to work with. Once I practice a sterile gloving at home, I will re-use the same pair of gloves three of four times for suture practice. My fake skin may be new, but it is far from sterile.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Tomato!

I haven't done any food-related posts in a while, and decided it was time for one. I stumbled across the rough outline of this dish in a magazine in one of the exam rooms in the local emergency vet clinic a week ago (long story, not blog-worthy). I made a small volume of it the next day, and liked it so much that I went all out and made an enormous volume of it this afternoon. This dish is perfect for parceling into lots of plastic containers, ready to microwave for a quick meal. Add a green salad, or if you are lazy and/or pressed for time (I am both), reheat a portion in a bowl, throw some greens on top then dash some of your favorite vinegar on top of everything, and you have a delicious, healthy, quick meal.

Tomato!

Here's the basic recipe that you can scale up as needed.
 
1 can white beans (I like Great Northerns)
1 can diced tomatoes
1/3 large sweet yellow onion, finely sliced (adjust to your taste, I like onion so I use a little more)
1 container (about 300 g) of cherry tomatoes (I prefer the yellow ones, they are sweeter)
fresh or dried basil
olive oil
1 package of fancy chicken sausages (I think Italian works best but you can probably use whatever makes you happy)

Heat oven to 375F. Rinse the beans if they are not low-salt. Drain well and pour can into large glass baking dish. Add the can of diced tomatoes, onion, and spices. Drizzle about a tablespoon or so of olive oil on this. Stir well. Rinse the cherry tomatoes then distribute them evenly across the top. Place the uncovered dish in the oven for about 20 minutes or until everything is bubbling. Remove the dish from the oven.

Cut the sausages in half lengthwise and submerge them under the surface without disturbing the cherry tomatoes on top. Use a fork! Don't burn your fingers! Return the uncovered dish to the oven and let it simmer until the cherry tomatoes begin to brown and burst (perhaps another 25 minutes). Let it cool a bit before serving.

Enjoy--and don't forget the greens!

Monday, May 08, 2017

Innocence

I am not a very good photographer. I don't have equipment any more specialized than what's on my phone and iPad. I occasionally use my little Canon camera but that's starting to feel more and more old school these days.

My usual photographic method consists of "take 50 pictures and toss 48 or 49 of them." It's a decently productive method, and as long as I have the discipline to throw away the shots that are blurry, out of focus, too dim, or simply fail to have a dog part in them, it doesn't clog up the memory of my devices.

But in photography as in life, we sometimes get lucky.

 

I took this photo, unaltered except for a bit of cropping, on Saturday morning at an annual public event called Pet Day put on by the College. My assigned morning tasks were completed and I was taking a quick walk through all the booths and exhibits before the event opened up. This first-year vet student was in the petting zoo area with one of the dozen or so pettable rabbits. She didn't see me taking her picture. This was the third of three that I took of her using my phone.

There is something remarkably Classical in the way her hands are arranged, the way her head is turned towards yet tilted away from the viewer. You know that I would never have been able to get such a beautiful shot if I had asked her to pose.

It doesn't hurt to be reminded that, even though they seem to be in short supply these days, there is still beauty and innocence in the world. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Archie, Crazed Agility Beast (Part 2)

Archie and I went to another AKC agility trial this weekend. It was in Eugene, which is a pleasant drive south of about an hour on a small state highway. The Eugene trials are small, and usually only have one judge, but the host clubs keep things efficient by setting up two rings, alternating classes between them. 

This was Archie's first trial out of the novice classes and he did very well indeed--three Qs out of four runs. I am so very close to having the crazed agility beast that I have in class in the competition ring with me. He showed me this weekend that he is starting to understand what trials are for. I have shifted to crating him inside the arena but keeping Mimi and Azza in the car if they have to come along. Archie can always see me during class, and crating him in the arena means he can see me most of the time there too.
 
So tie-tie.



As I was leaving this afternoon, I went over and told the judge that I had not shown under him before and that I really enjoyed his courses. He said, well I really enjoyed watching you run your dog. He's very fun. 

I get that a lot. I get that from complete strangers who come up and tell me, your dog is so fun to watch. It makes me feel proud to be his partner out there. Now that he is more focused, his speed in the ring is picking up, so I also got some compliments today on his weaves (he weaves like a big dog, a rare talent in a dog of Archie's size).

He nearly gave me a heart attack today by jumping on the table and nearly skidding off but he managed to hang on just as he was about to tip off the edge. Now that is a dog who understands what he needs to do! His contacts were perfect all weekend, and we managed to double-Q today with two nice runs. 

A happy fox terrier.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Archie, Crazed Agility Beast

A couple of weeks ago, Archie finally got his third AKC Novice agility title and is now parked in the wasteland of the Open (intermediate) classes. I heard someone say once that AKC Open classes aren't designed, they are made by tossing out a couple of random obstacles from the Excellent course and renumbering it. So true, so true. But at least they offer some handling challenges.

On Thursday in class, we got to choose a sequence for our first run. I chose a relatively pedestrian sequence that only had a tricky weave entry and not much else, thinking that it would be a good warm-up for us. Well, Archie and I were out there doing some agility, but not really doing it together. I just wasn't connecting with him. My instructor said, at least you know this: he is a honest dog. If he takes an off-course, it's because you didn't give him the right information or timely information. I completely agree with this. He is exquisitely responsive to my movement and body position, even down to where my feet are pointing. I have a horrible habit of stopping or slowing down to check in with him, and it confuses him and causes him to slow down. In that brief moment, he makes decisions on his own, trying to figure out what I want him to do. Bam, there he goes off course. He is very consistent in taking off-course obstacles that are reasonable in the context (he is not running around taking random obstacles). This is my problem, not his.

So for our next sequence, I chose a segment of an international-style course and decided to handle it very aggressively. I walked it and made my plans. Ironically, it included the very same tricky weave entry that we never were able to get on the first sequence. 

Here's a map of the first half of the sequence that I made the next day from memory. I've drawn in Archie's path (solid line) and made a couple of notations about my handling choices (more on that below). The obstacles are numbered in order. The position of the number indicates the side that the dog needs to approach the jump from. So you can see that jumps 5 and 7 are "backsides" in which the dog has to take the side opposite of the one that he is directly approaching. 
 
 

The sequence started with a tunnel then into the weaves. I told him tunnel then turned and took off for the weaves. I had Archie on my right in the weaves and as he reached the last poles, I pulled laterally into a front cross at 3. As I completed that turn, I was pulling laterally again and did another front cross for 4. So Archie was on my right side again as he went over 4. There were some more sophisticated options involving a blind cross at 4. But I chose front crosses because I'm old school and feel more comfortable with them. I knew that I could execute the two back-to-back crosses smoothly. Plus they send very clear information to the dog, useful with an "honest" baby dog like Archie. And finally, he is not quite able to hang in the weaves when I make a strong lateral pull before he has finished them. This is a training issue that I know that I will resolve this summer once it stops raining and I can train outside again. Since I needed to be with him to the end of the weaves, the two front crosses worked best for us.

I pushed him to the backside of 5 by saying "back back back WRAP". Archie has a very strong, reliable wrap (it means do a very tight turn around the vertical of the jump). He also had to move across my path in front of me (he was on my right) to get to the backside, but I knew that he works very well with rear crosses. A more sophisticated move would be to have him slice 5 and turn around the far vertical instead. It is a smoother path for the dog requiring much less deceleration. Again, I went with the option that I thought would make the most sense to him. On the whole, speed is not our issue. He is demonstrating a lot more sophistication at knowing when to collect and when to extend for jumps, so even though he did have to slow down to wrap, it wasn't much of a slow down for him.

As he was wrapping around 5, I was already driving to 6. As I approached 7, I was saying "back back" and already turning laterally. He neatly sliced 7 and headed for the tunnel that my body position and movement were indicating. I began to pull away from him before he even entered the tunnel but he remained committed to the correct entrance. I sprinted, literally sprinted, to complete a blind cross before he exited the tunnel (the dashed line on the course map). It is no surprise that Archie is a lot faster than I am. This was a risky move--the chance of collision was high. And this was exactly the tricky weave entry that we were not able to get earlier in class. 

A blind cross is where the handler crosses in front of the dog but doesn't turn or face the dog. You just step from one side to the other, changing leads. I sprinted to the other side of the tunnel exit, dropped my right shoulder and arm towards the weaves, and said "WEAVE!". I barely made it in time but he had the info he needed. 

He hit those weave poles so hot I was sure that he would pop out. But he managed to stay in for the turn from pole 1 to poles 2-3, the hardest turn in that situation. When I saw that he managed his entry, I just took off, yelling "weave weave weave". 

He nailed them. 

I tossed him his precious bunny fur tug, which he proceeded to open on his own to eat all the treats inside. I was jumping up and down, yelling for joy. My classmates gave me a standing ovation. They told me later it was the best they had ever seen me handle. My instructor was laughing and said, well, I think we can also say that Archie prefers the more difficult courses! She pointed out that even though he has fantastic ability to read rear crosses, my aggressive handling kept me up front, kept me moving, and kept up a constant flow of info for him. 

It was terrifying. No time to ponder, no time or space to make a mistake. I felt like I was on the edge of losing it for the entire sequence. But it was exhilarating too. He and I were running like we were connected by a string. It was perfect agility. 

I hope this is a lesson learned for me. Archie is an incredibly smart little dog. I love doing agility with him. The burden is on me to step up my game.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Diary of A Second-Year Vet Student: Lambing Season

I don't participate in very many of the student clubs. First, there are dozens of them, and second, I'm not that interested in most of them. But I am a dues-paying member of the Ag Animal Club. Most clubs are run by second-year students who joined as first-year students and learn how and what the clubs want to accomplish. I could not have been more excited last spring when my two gross anatomy sheep dissection partners, Becky and Sydney, put themselves forward as the vice president and president, respectively, of the Ag Animal Club. The two second-year students they were replacing are horrible young women. I refer to them as the "mean girls." If you've seen the movie by that name, you'll know exactly what I mean. 

Sydney shared my opinion of the mean girls, and decided she wanted to put her own stamp on the Ag Animal Club, make it more inclusive, have more speakers and activities. And one of the changes she made is to arrange for vet students in the club to volunteer at the university sheep center with the lambing crew. 

I eagerly signed up for my allotted number of two-hour shifts, and went to the first one yesterday. I got to bottle-feed lambs. I got to give ewes with mastitis intramuscular injections of antibiotics. And I got to milk a ewe to collect milk for a tiny little lamb, the runt of triplets, who was not nursing on her own yet. 

My total experience with milking anything was pulling some colostrum from the beef cow project a couple of years ago. But nobody else had been able to get any milk out of this ewe, so I said, sure, I'll give it a go. 

I pulled an ounce out the first time, and fed it to the little lamb. You can't see anything at all, it's all done by feel, and it was very satisfying to hear that stream of milk hit the bottom of the plastic bottle. I went back two hours later and pulled two ounces, and fed that to the little lamb. And then I pulled two more ounces on top of that for one of the volunteers to take home with her to feed the other survivor of that set of triplets.

Everyone was very impressed. I'll be the first to admit that beginner's luck was probably involved. I will also admit that I didn't know that sheep only had two teats until I started rooting around down there. But sometimes we display skills that we didn't even know we had. And just think, in order to have this experience, all I had to do was show up.

Diary of A Second-Year Vet Student: It's Starting To Get Very Real

At this point in our second year, we've completed several important foundation course series. For the most part, the "ologies" are done: virology, parasitology, bacteriology. Toxicology this term will complete that group. The first pass through clinical and systemic pathology is completed. Sys path deals with mechanisms of disease in systems like skin, kidney/urinary, liver, etc. Clin path covers many of the standard laboratory analyses, assays, and tests that vets use to diagnose disease: urinalysis, blood chemistry, that sort of thing. We've been introduced to diagnostic imaging, mostly radiography (xrays) but there's much more of that to come next year. We had a couple of brutal terms of pharmacology this year. It is extremely difficult to memorize drug things when we have no real-world contexts for them, but that's where pharm falls in the curriculum and whining won't change that. Up to this point, we've been making and memorizing lots of lists of lots of fiddly bits.

The tenor of our course work made a significant shift this term. This really became apparent Thursday afternoon with the first lab of our principles of surgery course. We all had to show up in scrubs. Divided into small groups, we got tours of parts of the teaching hospital that few of us had been in before. And we had a practical exercise to learn how to put on sterile gloves in a sterile manner, and how to perform a rough sterilization, the one that gets done before the animal is moved into the surgery suite, and how to properly drape a designated surgical field, the area where the surgeon will be making her incision.

We practiced these latter things using rubber legs, possibly meant to represent the leg of a large dog. But these objects had no pelvis, no paw or hoof, no bones, no skin, not even identifiable muscles, just tough orange-colored rubber that was vaguely leg shaped. Getting towel clamps into an object that has no skin was quite difficult. 

Even during the tour, which, to be honest, was still a tour and not all that exciting, I could sense the growing excitement in my small group. And when we were in the student teaching lab swabbing down the orange rubber legs, everyone was visibly even more amped up.

The reason was simple. Suddenly, after almost two years of "death by powerpoint" with only token nods now and then to touching real animals, we were actively doing things that we will be doing for the rest of our careers as vets.

In a few weeks, we will be intubating dogs and cats and acting as the anesthesiologist for the fourth-year vet students when they do surgeries. And in six months, we will all be making incisions in real dogs and cats. Six months. 

This vet school thing is starting to get very real.

Our entire class simultaneously came to that realization during the Thursday afternoon lab. I talked to many of my classmates on Friday, asking them in different ways what their impressions of the lab were. And they all confirmed that we had indeed experienced a hive-mind event, a collective shift in how we viewed the vet school process, and how we viewed ourselves as soon-to-be vets.

I am not surprised that we had this kind of shared emotional experience. Vet school is based on cohorts of students who take the same classes at the same time for the first three years. We are stressed and challenged together, and see each other succeed and fail close up and in uncomfortable situations. I actually expected this to happen at some point, but even so, I was just as swept up as everyone else on Thursday. 

So we move forward, still as a group, but with a much stronger shared sense of purpose.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Least Amongst Us

I volunteered at Pro-Bone-O in Eugene last Sunday. As always, it was exhausting and eye-opening. And as always, I was humbled to see how people with so few resources do the best they can to take care of their beloved animal companions. 

A guy walked in with a small carrier containing a grey cat. He was probably an Iraq War veteran, was about the right age, had that military stance and carriage even though life had beaten on him pretty hard for quite a few years. He also had a military-style haircut--a lot of veterans keep that hair style for their entire lives. He lives in a tent in one of the homeless encampments in Eugene. This winter has been an endless misery of rain, and I wondered how he was able to cope with that. 

He feeds the feral and stray cats that hang around the encampment, and had noticed that one of the cats was no longer eating regularly. He told me and the veterinarian that he thought she might be sick. 

We took the lid off the crate, and on a filthy towel was an ancient female cat, nothing but five pounds of skin and bones. She was covered with fleas. She had an upper respiratory infection and was having problems breathing. Mucous was coming out of her nose, and her eyes were crusty. A bit of fresh blood was coming out of her anus. She had only a handful of teeth and they were in an advanced state of disease and infection. The tip of one of her ears was cleanly cut off, a sign that at some point in the distant past, she had been trapped, spayed, and released. Her belly was slightly swollen, mostly likely with peritoneal fluid, and she was terribly dehydrated.

I really admire the way the veterinarian took the time to examine her thoroughly. He looked the guy in the eye, and said, "She's very old and very sick. Very old, sick cats often have kidney disease or heart disease. We would need to run blood tests to figure out why she is sick, but we can't do those tests here [at Pro-Bone-O; it is basic triage and treatment, no diagnostics except what you can see with your own eyes]. If you can't afford the blood tests at the community vet clinic, I think the best option is to euthanize her today."

He didn't sugarcoat it or talk down to the guy. He calmly and quietly explained the situation. The guy sighed, and said, yeah, my buddy and I thought that might be the case. 

The veterinarian said, is that what you want us to do? And the guy said, yes. 

Pro-Bone-O operates on a shoestring with donated supplies and meds. They have no controlled substances except for one: the phenobarbital solution used for animal euthanasias. The veterinarian injected propofol under the cat's skin--she was so dehydrated that there was no way we were going to be able to use a vein. I waited with the guy and the old cat, both of us petting her together. After she was heavily sedated, the veterinarian injected phenobarbital into one of her kidneys. Her heart stopped less than a minute later.

The point of all this is not to tell you a gory story about euthanizing an old, sick cat. 

This is a rant about a man, very likely a man who fought in a war for this country, a man who now lives in a tent, who has nothing himself but manages to look after stray cats. A man who one day noticed that one of the cats was sick, and knowing that he could not help her or fix her problems, managed to get her to us. 

Where is the human decency in eliminating social programs that provide assistance to people like this veteran? This homeless man, whom many of our current elected leaders would consider a burden, has the charity and kindness in his heart to look out for the least amongst us. What a world it would be if we all tried to do the same.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Border Collie In A Fox Terrier Suit

The endless rain we've had in the Pacific NW this winter has made it impossible to do anything outside. To compensate, I try to play with my dogs as vigorously and as often as I can. But in the past three weeks or so when I was buckling down to study, I wasn't playing as often as Archie would have liked. 

So he took action. Standing just out of my reach, he would take a ball and drop it on the floor, letting it bounce a couple of times: BUMP-bu-bu-bu. He would grab it and drop it again: BUMP-bu-bu-bu. Over and over: BUMP-bu-bu-bu, BUMP-bu-bu-bu, BUMP-bu-bu-bu, BUMP-bu-bu-bu. I tried ignoring him, thinking that he would get bored, but it was like a form of water drip torture. BUMP-bu-bu-bu. BUMP-bu-bu-bu. I would finally crack and grab the ball and put it on my study table. 

He'd run off to gnaw on the cat, then after a few minutes, he'd be back with another ball. I clean my house often and I pick up the balls when I vacuum, so I am convinced that he was materializing them out of thin air. BUMP-bu-bu-bu, BUMP-bu-bu-bu, BUMP-bu-bu-bu. He was relentless. The only way to get him to stop was to close my computer, put down my pencil, and focus on him for 15 minutes. That would buy me at least an hour of peace.

Then he devised a truly inspired variation of this game. He would lay down, again just out of my reach, and form a sort of Hot Wheels track with his front paws. He'd then gently set the ball on his paws and nudge it with his nose so that it would roll down the track and bump to a stop at my feet. He's not quite grasped the concept of aim but he has the general idea. You'd think this would be easier to ignore. Certainly this game was quieter. But then he would stare at the ball, his laser eyes boring a hole in it. It was palpable, and maddening. He might as well have been poking me with a stick.

At one point, I grabbed the ball and said to him, "Are you really a border collie in a fox terrier suit?" 

It's common enough for terriers to engage in repetitive, OCD-like behaviors; border collies are of course well known for this. Harry was so successful in flyball because he was like a machine in the repeatability and consistency of his performance. Archie has a lot of the same intensity. I am still struggling to learn how to handle him in agility. I want to find a way to mold the craziness that would cause him to pick up and drop a ball 50 times in a row. I'll be watching the fast border collies and their handlers more closely at the next trial. No, I don't want a border collie. Their temperament is not my cup of tea. My nutty little fox terrier will do just fine. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Diary of A Second-Year Vet Student: Thirty-Eight Percent of the Way There!

By the end of the second year, most vet students begin to say that we are "50% of a vet" because the end of this academic year will mark our halfway point. But we are not quite at that magical halfway point yet, thus I am, as of this post, only 38% of a vet. 

I'm intrigued by the fact that, in the past two weeks, I've overheard about 1/4 of my classmates say, well, I've thought about quitting but I'm too far in now so I might as well continue on. Vet school is very difficult. There is so much material to learn, with so many species differences and so many fiddly bits that turn out to be really important bits. Then we are told that when we graduate, we will be barely functional as clinicians, and I agree, it's enough to make you want to throw up your hands and say, I give up! But we all push on. 

The winter term that just finished was punishing but in a different way from the brutalizing first year. For example, for our pharmacology final on Monday of this week, we had to know all kinds of things about 231 different drugs: drugs for the heart, gut, kidneys, and liver; drugs for chemotherapy; NSAIDs; antibiotics for large and small animals, and parasiticides for large and small animals. We have to learn the official drug name, not the commercial name, so we learn about maropitant, not Cerenia. And I am here to tell you that a large majority of these drugs have formal names that sound like they should belong to some type of superhero, a situation that prompted this entertaining quiz: drug name or Tolkien elf name (pro-tip: Tolkien never used the letter X in his elf names). Just in case you missed it, one of my classmates counted: 231 different drugs. We had to learn the name, what it is used for, the specific situations in which it is used, its mechanism of action, its pharmacodynamics and -kinetics (how it acts and is acted on in the body, how long it acts, which of course varies with species), what toxicities and adverse results might occur, and various miscellaneous notes such as "expensive" or "never use in goats."

That pharm exam was just one comprehensive final of the four that we had to take this week. I can't bear to clutter my head with unnecessary words when I study, and that is doubly true when I am studying for big exams. I've been hunkered down for weeks without any words but those required for my exams. No news via internet or radio, no internet entertainment, not even songs with words (that pretty much limits me to music that is non-opera classical and non-vocalist jazz). And of course no blog posting.

But spring break is stretching in front of me. I should have time and energy to barf up some words on the blog in the next week. I've been storing up some blog-worthy stories for weeks so I hope you stay tuned.

Let me close with a funny story about words. Words can restrict us (learn only drug name, not commercial name), and they can expand our imaginations. We use specialized words to describe pathology and anatomy too. At a review session for our diagnostic imaging final, the resident asked Andrew what was the "order of the pooping, peeing, and baby holes" in the standard female mammal. In a lateral view radiograph, this applies to what organs we should see in what positions in the normal female animal. Andrew is the nicest guy on the planet, very smart with an extremely dry sense of humor. And he completely misunderstood her question. She wanted to know the order of the tubular organs from dorsal to ventral (that order would be pooping, baby, and peeing, or colon, uterus, urinary bladder). He stammered, hesitated, stammered some more, then basically failed to answer. The rest of us were falling out of our seats with laughter. Words matter. Maropitant might be the formal name of that drug, but  "pooping, peeping, and baby holes" is hilarious. 

This is the vet student equivalent of fart jokes. Never gets old. 

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Circus K9 and Archie Update

I'm cheating a bit by dumping these disparate things into one post. Bit busy these last few weeks of the term.

Here are two cute CircusK9 photos.

Archie: Master of Mayhem and Chaos

The dogs arrayed on the couch for a nap. Archie has his head on me.

And here's a video of one of Archie's runs at the agility trial last weekend. He did not Q, as you can tell from the judge's signals. He didn't complete the weaves on the second try, then ran on then off the teeter before I could pull him back for a third try, and we violated the four-paw rule when I continued on with the teeter. Not completing the weaves was sufficient for the elimination which is why I decided to make him do the teeter anyway. All of the errors were due to sloppy handling. But because he was still with me and fully engaged, I chose to complete the course. I pulled some "great dane" arm signals, as one of my instructors calls them, and I also totally mishandled the jump after the Aframe. Despite all of its flaws, I am uploading this because I don't have any other videos of Archie.

His contacts deteriorated over the weekend to the point that he launched himself from the top of the dogwalk on his last run on Sunday. I stopped the run and scooped him up, thanking the judge as I ran past her. When the leash runner handed me his leash, she said, "he's just adorable!" I could barely restrain my eye roll even though it was a nice compliment for such a naughty puppy.

The trial was a mixed bag of results. No Qs at all, but he didn't try to leave the ring by diving through the fence, and he never left me to check out the corners of the ring, although he did visit ring crew during a couple of runs. Of all the training issues one could have, I'll take this one. I'd rather have a social puppy than one who is scared of the people in and around the ring. He was much more focused on the game and on staying with me, and I consider that a big step forward, even if we didn't bring any ribbons home.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Agility Update

One of the nice collateral benefits of all the training I've been doing with Archie is that Mimi gets lots more training too. She gets to go along for every fun run, which she totally adores. I've mentioned that I test my backyard setups with her first. And even though she is far more enthused about playing around in agility than competing, I enter her for agility trials too. The lower jump heights in the AKC Preferred class mean that she jumps 12" instead of 16" but I think that even that is rather too much so I no longer ask her to run Jumpers courses. She has managed to pick up several Qs and a title because even though she isn't all that fast anymore, she's reliable and her contacts are much more consistent than they used to be--all that contact board work makes a difference!

I have yet to get decent (and decently priced) photos or video of Archie running at a trial but I did get some very nice photos of Mimi a couple of weekends ago. There are several vendors in this area that take photos or video during agility trials then sell those to handlers. In the low light and large open spaces of the typical enclosed horse arena where dog agility trials are usually held in this part of the world, it takes a specialized camera and lens to get good shots. Of course, many people have friends film their runs with iPads or their phones. Sometimes you want a really nice photo, so I always look at the vendor photos of Archie and Mimi at the shows, although I usually pass because the cost is just not reasonable. However, I picked up five digital photos of Mimi, full resolution, for $15. Here are two of them. 

Mimi looks so happy that you would never believe that she isn't into competing. One run a day seems to make her feel included without making her too stressed.



Even if I don't have competition photos of Archie, I do have one that I took at home after a big trial weekend. The green ribbons are for qualifying runs (Qs) and the purple and black ribbons are for a new title. He earned all of those ribbons in one day--pretty good for a naughty baby dog. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Diary of A Second-Year Vet Student: Exam Time!

I've been meaning to write this post for some time now. The idea came from a comment a friend made to me in an email. I told her that my grades for my classes were mostly As and a few Bs. She replied that she supposed it didn't matter if I didn't learn everything now because I would learn it later when I began practicing. I was quite surprised and had to read her reply several times. It seemed like she was suggesting that a grade of a B in a course meant I had learned less than someone who had earned an A in that course. And that's not how it works at all!

We are deep in the throes of midterms. Vet school is a succession of "midterms" that begin as early as the first or second week of the term and relentlessly continue up to the final exam. Week after week, term after term, for the first two and a half years. It's sort of cute/not cute that the instructors retain the old-fashioned name "midterm" for these exams. I'm far too busy studying for all of those exams to have the energy or the time to engage in a heated discussion of semantics with my instructors. They can call it whatever they want to call it.

But here's the connection to the comment my friend made. The grade that you get on an exam, and in a class, can be distinctly unrelated to what you have learned in that class. This is true not only for vet school but for any sort of formal testing situation. 

Take systemic pathology. In this class, we study the specific changes that cells and animals experience when certain disease conditions are present. It's a super interesting course with lectures and textbooks chock full of beautifully staged and lit photographs of horrifically diseased organs. We are methodically moving through the body systems during our second year (skin, renal, cardiovascular, reproductive, etc). Each system is taught by a different instructor, and every week or so we have to adjust to a different style of instruction. One common thread is that all of the instructors give us assignments in addition to exams. The assignments involve lots of research, reading, and assimilation of concepts. I excel at that kind of work and knock the darned things out of the park. Every single instructor comments on my assignments: "Well done!" "Great job" "Impressive that you found a disease for every lesion on the list". You get the idea. I asked around and found that almost none of my classmates get comments on their assignments, even those who get full marks like I do. So I know that when I have time to ponder and cogitate, I demonstrate sufficient mastery of the required learning that it drives my instructors to comment. Woohoo for me. 

But when I take tests in this class, I fall apart. At this point, it is entirely a mental thing. I have so much test anxiety for sys path exams that I will find myself staring at the exam sheet with a completely empty brain. I am engaging in one of the hardest courses of post-graduate study there is and I never have text anxiety in any course except sys path. I know this material. I proved that I know it. Yet I suck at taking the exams. I make a B in the course as a result despite perfect marks on the assignments.

(As an aside, I had similar test anxiety for gross anatomy during my first year. I really struggled in that class. But I signed up last term to be a teaching assistant for gross anatomy labs. I put on a lab coat and gloves and wander around the lab looking for first-years with sad faces. I go into the labs cold, with no review of the material, and discover that I actually know what and where all the fiddly bits are, despite my troubled exam performance during my own first year. I actually learned an enormous amount of anatomy but it has taken my returning to the scene of the crime to demonstrate that.)

Let me give you another example of the disconnect between test-taking and what has been learned. We are taking diagnostic imaging this term, a course that introduces us to radiology (x-rays). It's really an interesting class. Like sys path, it is also team-taught. When discussing osteosarcoma, one of the instructors put up a slide that said it can be primarily lytic (loss of bone), primarily productive (inappropriate new bone forms), or both. Three bullet points, one after the other. Very clear. Then she throws up a question on the recent "midterm" that asked whether osteosarcoma was (a) focal lytic, (b) focal productive, (c) diffuse lytic, or (d) diffuse productive. Can you see the problem? Based on the information she gave us, it could be either lytic or productive--she attached no relative percentages of likelihood to her three bullet points. And she did not define what "focal" or "diffuse" meant in the context of the question. The question was written exactly as I wrote it above. Was the lesion to be considered focal to the bone it was in, the limb it was in, the whole animal it was in? Productivity can be a function of activity of the lesion; was the lesion referred to in the question active or inactive? Acute or chronic? How in the hell could I know what she had in mind? Was I going to be tested on how well I could read her mind? How well I could guess?

I nearly lost my shit right then and there. Based on the information she had given us in lecture, which I had most assuredly learned, the question was ambiguous, and even worse, it was unanswerable as posed. As such, there was no way that question could objectively evaluate my learning. I wrote several careful but heated emails to the course coordinator and the instructor in question (screencapping her own damned powerpoint slide in the email because I'm an asshole like that), and the question was dropped from the exam.

Our culture generally accepts a "test" in some form to be a reasonable evaluation of "learning." If the "test" is poorly phrased or ambiguous, it cannot be used in this way. If the student demonstrates learning in one testing format but does not perform as well in another testing format, that does not mean the student has not learned. 

I've mentioned before that I probably could make all As but I have made other life choices (a naughty puppy comes to mind). In other words, I make grades commensurate with the amount of studying that I do (which is considerable; one does not make even a single A in vet school without a lot of hard work). They are not automatically equivalent to the quality or quantity of my learning. 

I attended a lunchtime talk yesterday given by a rep from one of the commercial test-prep sites for the national vet board exams, which we take in December of our fourth year. I learned that the board exam is pass/fail and you only need to get 70% of the questions right to pass. Your actual score is never seen by anyone but you. Next time you visit a vet for your pet, consider that they could have made 70% (or worse, curves do exist) on every exam in vet school AND on the national board exam, and yet there they are, getting ready to inject your pet with some medication. Now it is possible that they might have indeed learned less. There is a woman in our class who consistently makes the lowest score on every exam in every class. Her under-performance is impressive in a sad way. I've not yet been forced to do any group work with her but I hear that she is also consistently unprepared and hapless. I truly believe that she is an exception. For the most part, that exam score doesn't reflect what we have learned.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

I Heart George Blagden

I read lots of history and historical fiction. When a reasonably interesting historical fiction series comes around on Netflix or Amazon Prime, I'll at least read some reviews, maybe look at the first episode. And this is how I got sucked into the series Versailles on Netflix. Sadly, only one season has been shown in the U.S. (it's a British production) but I wait with 'bated breath for the next one, expected on Netflix later this fall. Versailles is not a Netflix production but they made a very good choice in adding it to their lineup. It's a sign of a good screenplay when you watch a show already knowing the basic historical facts and are still surprised, moved, entertained, and shocked by seeing it acted out. I should warn that this is not a show for pearl-clutchers--there is lots of nudity, sex, torture, gory deaths, and the usual mid-17th century European raping and pillaging. The costumes are lush and the mud and blood flow freely.

Because I don't do much leisure reading during school terms and I've been avoiding news and political commentary of late, I felt a little bereft when I finished the last episode of Versailles. I was poking around Amazon Prime looking for something else to watch when I decided to look into Vikings. I had been avoiding it because of its association with the History Channel, which for some years has been pandering to the lowest common denominator of viewer. However, I got hooked quickly. Vikings is like Versailles, only colder, wetter, and significantly muddier and bloodier. And while watching the second episode, I thought to myself, hey, I've seen those enormous blue eyes before.

Yep. The British priest Athelstan captured by Ragnar during his first raid in Northumbria is acted by George Blagden. And George Blagden is also Louis XIV, the Sun King himself.

I heart George Blagden. Seriously, go look at some of the stills from either series. His eyes are just fabulous. Here he is in 21st century garb. Of course it is probably 'shopped. Don't care.


And here's a very nice gif of him as Louis XIV. See what I mean? Putain!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Diary of a Second-Year Vet Student: Readin' and Writin'

I developed a rather painful swelling in the knuckle of my left index finger (between the proximal phalange of digit 2 and metacarpal 2, to be precise) from all the manual writing I had been doing during the first year of vet school.

This might be a good point to admit that, yes, I am left-handed. Based on an informal poll, about one-third of my classmates are left-handed. Since we lefties only comprise about 10% of the general population, there is some weird selection going on that brings more of us into vet school.

But back to my story. In that first year of vet school, I blew through hundreds of pages of paper and index cards making lecture notes then summaries of notes (what I call meta-notes). I took to wearing a neoprene compression wrap while at home. However, the swelling and pain in my joint did not resolve over the summer, so I've gradually transitioned away from writing to working almost exclusively with my class notes in digital form. 

It's a new way of studying for me. Writing things out is an effective way to cement concepts. You build muscle memory at the same time you form connections between things. While I can certainly type almost as fast as someone speaks, and I can type far faster than I can write, it is a different way of organizing information. 

I still resort to pencil and paper when I need to make diagrams or need to flesh out steps in a calculation for drug dosing. And of course I print out all those fancy outlines when I've finished with them, and they get plenty of hand-written annotations in the margins as I find new connections between things. I haven't abandoned my precious mechanical pencils.

One big advantage of digital notes is that I can include photographs of gnarly (animal) body parts in my digital notes. It's becoming clear that this will be extremely useful. We are taking our first class on radiography (x-rays) and radiographic interpretation. There is no way I could capture that information by writing or drawing it by hand.

Another advantage of typing everything is that it just takes fewer hours to summarize lectures than it does to write it out. It's so much easier to keep up, and even get a little bit ahead, of the assigned work. 

Vet school is hard enough on its own. Serendipitous discoveries of extra hours in the day are more than welcome. 

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Recapping Archie's Second Novice Standard Q

What I didn't mention in my post yesterday is that I was sure that Archie did not qualify in his Novice Standard run on Sunday, so I didn't check the scores before I left. I only found out that he earned that second Q when I got the results email from the trial secretary last night. Not only did he Q, he only made one fault, an off-course.

I thought it would be amusing to put up an image of the actual path that Archie ran to give an example of how crazy it is to handle easily distracted, high-as-a-kite baby dogs. I made the image below as an exercise to figure out how he managed to Q.


The obstacles are numbered on the side the dog needs to approach them. Obstacle 8 is the broad jump, which you'll recall I mocked up at home with a shipping pallet (worked brilliantly, Archie had no problem with them all weekend). Obstacle 10 is the teeter, and 13 is the tire.

We started out with an arc to jump 1 as I mentioned yesterday since he refused to sit. His weaves were perfection and he had a nice stopped contact at the end of the Aframe. I did a front cross while he was descending the Aframe to position myself for the loop from 5 to 9. However, when I released him, he ran not to jump 5 but to the table (red line). He jumped on the table, off it, went around it, zoomed off to the corner. I managed to get him back to me without him taking any other obstacles (a minor miracle), and somehow, I don't know how, I got him back on track to jump 5. Even with all of that craziness, he only got one fault, an off-course at the table when he jumped on it after the Aframe. He never crossed the refusal plane of jump 5 while he was running around, another miracle.

We finished the rest of the course without incident and had a big happy party at the end--even though I thought he had not qualified, it is important to always have a party so the dog leaves happy. He in fact ran the entire path (red plus white) 5 seconds below course time. Speed is not Archie's problem.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Archie's Agility Debut

Archie went to his first agility trial this past weekend. It was a three-day AKC trial. I entered him in FAST, jumpers, and standard each day. That was in fact the order in which he ran these courses.

FAST is a gambler-style game where the handler selects her course. Obstacles have assigned point values. The objective of the game is three-fold: successfully complete a distance challenge (send the dog to obstacles at a distance from the handler) and accumulate enough additional points to reach a total of 60 within the allotted run time. You can't qualify (Q) if you don't complete the distance challenge. And you lose points if you go over time, but you could compensate for that by earning extra points during the run. The high-point obstacles are always placed in awkward spots so a run that would get a maximum number of points might not be very pretty or smooth. I decided to try this game because Archie has such solid distance skills. It would be a chance for him to work out some kinks before he tackled standard and jumpers. Standard is the course with the contact obstacles, and jumpers just has jumps and weaves and tunnels. 

Friday was a wash, as I expected it to be. My goals were to enter with a happy puppy, and leave the ring, together, with a happy puppy. If we managed to do some obstacles together, that would be a bonus. Archie thought it most important to visit all of the ring crew and the judges, thanking them for being there and helping out. He was quite enthusiastic about this. Agility people know how this works, of course. Judges turn their backs. Ring crew don't move a muscle, no matter how cute a puppy is. And of course there was a fair bit of exploration of the space itself. I could see the little wheels in his head spinning around as he started to figure things out. Every run was better than the one before it. Even when he went zooming off to check out something, I was able to get him back to me and back on course. By the end of the day, we were completing large sections of each course, and he was performing brilliantly. For his standard run on Friday, he hit every contact perfectly, and his weaves were fast and focused. I was very pleased. 

My greatest fear was that he would leave the ring (no agility ring is perfectly escape-proof if a dog is determined to leave it). But at the end of every run he came right to me, so excited with himself. So I was able to leave the ring every time with a very happy puppy.

The one factor that I did not anticipate was his start line behavior. In class, he has a rock-solid start-line stay. Rock solid. At the trial, I couldn't even get him to sit. He was so excited, he was ready to pop. I had to resort to holding a hand on his chest then releasing him when I was ready, hoping that I didn't trip over the first obstacle as I went past it. Handlers that have to do this often arrange to have the dog approach the first obstacle in an arc rather than position the dog directly in front of it. This allows the handler space to get around that first obstacle more quickly, and safely. The downside of this is that the handler can't get ahead of the dog. If you are running a fast dog, that has a big impact on the handling choices you are forced to make. I added this to my list of "things I need to work on."

On Saturday, I managed to execute my intended plan for the FAST course, but too much time was wasted while Archie visited the ring crew, and the buzzer rang a microsecond before he completed the distance challenge. We had plenty of points, but in this game, no distance, no Q. I could see that he was getting very close to "getting it" though. Our jumpers run was nice. In AKC Novice, some errors are allowed, but he made one error too many so we didn't Q. But he ran the entire course with me, completing it in plenty of time even with his errors. Speed is not a problem with Archie.

I had quite a few people stop me to compliment me on what a fine specimen he is. I admit, I preened a bit. I had put some effort into grooming him before the trial to make sure he looked as good as he could be. He's in great condition, and he's a very pretty little dog. Smooth fox terriers are not that common outside of conformation so he attracts attention just for that. 

But people also commented on his abilities. I preened some more. His contacts were superb, his weaves fast, and I was working both front and rear crosses with him. Those comments gave me quite a boost. 

On Saturday afternoon, at 15 months and 10 days of age (dogs can't compete in AKC until they are 15 months old), Archie earned his first Q in Novice Standard. He was fabulous in the ring! It was not error-free, but it was a good run. I was over the moon. 

On Sunday, I decided to go for a minimalist approach to FAST. I chose the smoothest course possible, basically a big loop around the outside, that would get us the absolute minimum points that we needed. And it worked perfectly. It was a fantastic run, and his first Q in Novice FAST. 

He got terrier brain during his jumpers run and decided to tear apart the double jump sniffing for something in the dirt. Alphabet soup of errors on that one so no Q. But I managed to get him back on track and he completed the rest of the course perfectly. 

For the last run of the weekend, he and I ended up playing tag around the table. I was sure he had too many errors because of this even though he actually completed the entire course, in order, with perfect contacts and weaves. He even took a side trip to check out something in one corner of the ring and I managed to get him back. Turns out, the little stinker earned a second Q in Novice Standard. I couldn't believe it.

A woman came up to me after the run, a total stranger, and said, when the two of you get it together, it will be a thing of beauty to see. She was not being unkind or critical, but stating a fact: it takes time for a handler and a dog to find that sweet spot of teamwork. And she was also acknowledging that my baby dog and I still have lots of work to do, which is absolutely correct. But more importantly, Archie's potential is apparent even to complete strangers who had never seen him run before.

I only kept one ribbon from the weekend: Archie's first Q in Novice Standard on Saturday. No photos or video from the weekend, although a professional photographer was there and her group took some great shots of him. I thought I'd buy one for his breeder. 

I managed to pass some of the good karma I was getting to another handler. I volunteered as the gate steward for a couple of Open classes. On Sunday, a woman had two malamutes entered in the Open Standard class, and one of them in the Excellent Jumpers class running at the same time in the other ring. Her dogs were quite large and somewhat, well, let's say, exuberant, and she was not comfortable standing in the crowded gate area. She was already nervous and frazzled because of the potential conflict between the two rings, so it didn't help when the timer didn't start when she was running her first dog. The judge stopped her mid-run and asked her to start over (fairly standard thing to do). But the woman didn't set her dog up far enough from the first jump and this time, it knocked the bar. That wouldn't have eliminated her but the dog made many other errors during the run. Not the best time for her or her dog. She left to get her other dog, returning even more frazzled, out of breath, wide-eyed, and clearly, obviously stressed. I went up to her and said, hey, take a deep breath. That kind of thing happens. Focus on your lovely boy here and have a good time. You've got plenty of time. She looked at me, blinked, took a breath then turned to her dog and smiled and began talking silly talk to him. I said, you'll be great! And she was. She had a clean run with her second dog and left the ring beaming. 

That's how the game should be played.